Tag Archives: New York

On Board #75

Details here, then send ’em in.

June 15, 9:55 a.m.
Q Train – 7th Avenue to Times Square

There’s a baby being changed: orange diaper, pink pants, green blouse. Let’s call her Sally. She’s producing a horrifying sound – like the screeching of the subway brakes disharmonizing with a dying animal.

Mom’s face does not change throughout the dirty process: she does not want to be doing this here, on the subway, but she must. No one gets off to board another car, though they could.

The deed done, she bounces Sally on her lap, then holds her over her left shoulder, patting her back all along. The crying finally stops; a pacifier is the solution. Now that the child has calmed, down the mother cannot take her eyes off Sally. For a few moments, the faintest of smiles crosses her lips.

On Board #74

You too can be a featured On Board contributor. This one comes from Kasia Cannella. Do you have World Cup fever? Yes? Well why aren’t you wearing a cape?

June 17, 6:52 p.m.
2 Train, Nevins St. to Grand Army Plaza

On Board #73

Read, then send.

August 4, 6:36 p.m.
B Train – 42nd Street to 96th Street

Few subway-related struggles seem worse than dealing with a stroller, a friend recently noted. True, I thought, except for handling a child just large enough to make a stroller unreasonable. Here we have a mother and  a stroller. The stroller holds two children, but she pays them no attention, with good reason: her focus is on another child, around six, busily applying a black marker to a subway pole. Mom snatches the marker and gives a lecture in Spanish. Roughly translated:

Mom: Stop that. You need to draw on your paper.

Girl: [Throws yellow paper to the floor. One side is covered in lines and shapes, the other with an advertisement for a Chinese restaurant.] No! No! No!

Mom has had a long day: brow furrowed, eyes locked on points unknown around the car, mouth forming an unwavering horizontal line. She holds a red mesh shopping bag next to her with a baby’s bottle, roll of toilet paper and cell phone sticking out of the top. She checks the phone, quickly.

The girl leans into her mother’s arm.

“Ewwww,” she spouts.

“That’s what perfume smells like,” Mom answers, in English, without a hint of sheepishness.

There is a second stroller in the car that might alleviate some of the crying if it weren’t tucked behind the two children, out of view. A man in a black polo and jeans holds a yellow cage that looks like a see-through rolling suitcase. Inside is a Yorkshire terrier that keeps still, though its open eyes betray that it’s awake. The man folds the extended handle and picks up the cage as he exits the car, the three children never the wiser.

The girl has moved from graffiti to gymnastics. She lays on her back, her head resting awkwardly at a 45 degree angle on her mother’s lap. She sticks her legs straight up, then spreads them like a reverse jumping jack. As a final flourish, she wraps her knees around the horizontal bar and pulls her torso up into a human arch.

“Look, I spit in the train,” the girl says as she, sure enough, spits in the train.

“Don’t do that,” her mother finally snaps, giving her a mild slap on the wrist. “That’s disgusting.”

The girl turns to face an ad for Dallas BBQ. Though she does not comment on the leathery texture of it’s brisket, she does begin reciting the letters she recognizes in the poster, in no particular order.

“That’s not the right order,” Mom says, in her best teaching voice.

The girl stops and recites the alphabet from a to t, then hums an indistinguishable tune. She’s too busy for u, v, w, x, y, and z.

On Board #72

Details here. Send ’em here.

May 19, 11:15 p.m.
N Train – Union Square to Atlantic Ave

Four MTA employees, their covers blown by orange and yellow reflectors, are seated at the front end of this train. Two have light blue helmets, two hold gray ones. They sport identical black boots, and each wears multiple layers: two hooded sweatshirts, a camoflauge button-down, a sweater vest over a full length sweater. It’s mid-May and warm out, though apparently not where they’re going. Other uniform requirements: blur gas masks, ear muffs, wristwatches, neon green flashlights, whistles attached by the vest.

They do not sit together. One – squat, Hispanic, middle-aged – rests his right arm on a rail. Two full seats away his partner sits motionless, with a salt and pepper mustache and rimless glasses. Across from him a young black man rubs his eyes, and the last of the quartet stands by the door. Their facial expressions remain remarkably uniform: stoic, unsmiling, bemused, looking forward to nothing tonight.

Several passengers depart and the mustached man stretches his legs, off into the night.

On Board #71

On Board has its first case of syndication, this time at The Awl:

New Yorkers are in a unique anthropological position to observe their fellow citizens divided into two bitter factions, rooting for athletic blood enemies. I chanced upon a meeting of the dueling tribes last night, in the wild, on a packed 7 train from Vernon Jackson Boulevard to Citi Field. This is what I saw.

Read my full account of the ride here. I would have preferred that my author bio read “Reeves Wiedeman was most surprised that no one mocked his Kansas City Royals hat,” but we can’t have it all.

This should be all the more motivation for you to get your On Board submissions in.

On Board #70

Full details here; full accounts to be sent here.

May 13, 9:42 a.m.
B Train – 7th Avenue to Atlantic Avenue

The best dressed man on this train is reading a Metro New York. He’s in a blue and gold and brown striped suit, with a tan base color and is flanked by two older white men, one in a hoodie, the other in a CNN-embroidered parka. Our man’s straw hat is circled by a brown ribbon that goes with his peaked button down and glossy tie; all of which match his shiny brown pocket square, crimped neckward like a pyramid. His pants are loose but not unkempt. He looks like a 70’s don, but his jewelry – a small stud in his left ear and a jangly gold band covered by his right cuff – are understated. He reaches down as if to dust off his already shined wingtips (lustrous chocolate, of course), but instead picks up a briefcase and plastic Duane Reade bag, and departs at Atlantic. Manhattan might need style, but style does not need it.

On Board #69

On Board details here; send ’em.

August 6, 6:34 p.m.
N Train – Times Square to Atlantic Avenue

A woman in a lycra shirt, long sleeved, is bent at the knees ruffling through an overstuffed backpack in the middle of the car. All the seats are taken, and none of the gentlemen seem inclined to make room for Kate, which appears to be her name, if the faux diamonds encrusted tricep-high on her left sleeve are to be believed. She pulls a paperback copy of Emma out of her backpack after considerable searching, and stands to grab the handlebar while straddling the pack.

It is with almost Austenian poetry that she finally snares a seat next to a man holding a copy, also paperback, of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in his lap. He has black hair indistinguishable from his black beard, and at the moment is paying little attention to his book and more to the gal on his right arm. They joke quietly into each others ears, smiling frequently, whispering sweet, possibly Romantic nothings. They kiss, a lot.

The pair depart at Canal St., and a slight Asian woman takes the seat, turning the literary coincidence into a sitcom as she opens US Weekly to the Red Carpet spread.  In a deference to progress, our Emma reader, Kate, pulls out her cell phone in preparation for the 90 seconds the train will spend in T-Mobile’s coverage area over the bridge. She leaves a white piece of paper, folded in half, to mark her page. She listens to a voicemail.

Meanwhile, the Asian woman has maintained an assassin’s focus on her magazine, pausing only briefly to tear a “Save 50% Off The Cover Price! Subscribe today!” postcard from the pages.  There’s an eclectic mix of reading elsewhere on the train: two Metro New York’s, an anime comic book, Out of Captivity: Surviving 1,967 Days in the Colombian Jungle, a book written in Japanese, a Post, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, a book about investing, another with Tom Clancy smirking on the back in a red mesh baseball cap, aviators, and a bomber jacket, a Village Voice, and one New York magazine, held open to the listings section. Returning below ground and out of range, our girl opens her book back to page 72, probably reading about Emma screwing everything up. She recently bought the book for $4.95 from Borders. Unless she’s a subscriber, the Asian woman paid just four cents more for her magazine.

On Board #68

On Board’s looking for a few good submissions. Send ’em here.

April 4, 2010, 1:54 a.m.
N Train – 8th Street to 7th Avenue

A man plays a song on his cell phone. It’s a salsa, and it’s rather loud. He does this without any sense of concern for the other passengers, who at this late hour are either asleep or plugged in with music of their own. The woman next to him laughs. She looks to be about the same age, her face weathered, her earrings from younger days. She’s dressed in a black dress that fits her age; he’s in a black Adidas sweatshirt that certainly doesn’t.

At Canal Street, she tells him the next stop is hers. He grabs her, almost violently, and tugs her in close. He wraps his arms around her midsection, inching them further and further until he’s clasped his own hands together and has her in full embrace. She lies motionless for a while, her arm grazing his neck, then she pulls back, sticking them into his chest and pushing away. He holds even tighter, adjusting his grip. It’s hard to see her face to know the reason for the switch: Is she crying? Angry? As the brakes hit she finally breaks his grip. This is her stop. She kisses and jumps off.

He slides over as she departs and looks down at his phone, but doesn’t open it. He slides back and leans right as if peering around a corner. He watches her as she ascends the stairs.

On Board #66

August 29, 10:32 a.m.
Eastern Travel bus – 3 Pike St. (New York, NY) to 1021 Arch St. (Philadelphia, PA)

This is an exposition on luck and chance and self determination and being a dumbass, as experienced before boarding and while riding the 10:30 Eastern Travel bus from New York to Philadelphia one Saturday morning.

This particular morning, in attempting to catch the 8:15 Eastern Travel bus from New York to Philly (N.B. not the 10:30 from NY to Philly), I woke up with just enough time to make it – not a second more. I took a shower, but did not shave; packed a slice of banana bread, but did not eat a bowl of cereal; ran back up two flights of stairs after forgetting my umbrella, but did not realize I had forgotten the black belt I needed for the wedding I would be attending in eight hours.

Needless to say, I missed the F train. And not by a few seconds, so I could hear the dreadful “BING” that signals both that your Hot Pocket is ready to be removed from the microwave (a good thing) and that the subway is leaving despite your best efforts to leap down the set of stairs (a far worse thing). No, I had badly missed this train, its rear lights nowhere in sight, probably a good two minutes down the tunnel.

I did eventually catch a train, because another one always comes (in New York, at least; one becomes more depressed after 1 a.m. elsewhere). It was not the first train that came by – a G – or the second – another G – but it was the third.

The train arrived at East Broadway, one and a half blocks from 3 Pike St, outpost of the secretive Eastern Travel Bus Company Inc. We were only a minute or two behind schedule. An elevator took me to an exit I do not want, and I realize just too darn late that my mental compass has failed me and sent me east (and slightly north) rather than west (and slightly south), where I needed to go.

It is enough.

I sprint, holding my suit in one hand and a camera bag in the other and my thoughts, as best I can recall, jump to the following questions: Why is running so exhausting? Why is there a half opened computer monitor in my path that I must jump over? Did I remember my camera? Why do these two women insist on unfurling their umbrellas wide (did I mention it was raining) and hogging the sidewalk like couples riding an escalator? Why is it raining? Why is this bag so heavy? Why is there construction forcing a detour in the sidewalk? How did Chinatown get built? Why is it here, in this spot? Why don’t I workout more? Seriously, this shirt is a medium and it’s wet and it’s loose? And why the hell is this bag so heavy? It’s still raining?

As I turn the corner onto Pike Street (which doesn’t actually have any signs calling it Pike Street) there’s a small crowd, half a dozen strong, all huddled under the bus stop. The petite Chinese woman sitting on a black egg crate in a pink jacket asks me where I’m going (actually, “Where you going?,” which sounds very ethnically ignorant but is actually exactly what you would say to a friend, except her pronunciation and diction are more formal, and yours is lazy and ignorant).


She gestures to the corner. Rather, around the corner. “It’s gone, left one minute ago.”

“But it’s not even 8:15.” I look at the time: it is exactly 8:15. “Yes it is”; she shows me her watch, reading 8:16. “The next one is at 10,” she tells me with a sympathetic smile.

“Jesus Christ,” I say aloud, with immediate regret and only thankful that I was looking at the damply pewter sidewalk and not into the eyes just above the sympathetic smile of a woman who really couldn’t have helped me solve a problem I caused myself by stopping to back that piece of banana bread.

I now have to pass the time. I pass several Chinese restaurants walking down Canal St. to a Starbucks. I leave the umbrella – the one I ran back to get – tied to my camera bag, the rain dripping at a pace that makes holding the umbrella more painful than getting wet.

I buy a coffee and sit for an hour, surrounded by Europeans enjoying vacation.

I return to the stop and sit through people boarding a bus to DC. Two black women have occupied the egg crates and the short Chinese woman is standing. It seems she doesn’t recognize me from earlier which I find odd but really makes a whole lot of sense. Finally the bus arrives and the driver urges us to move with military precision down the aisle. I find a seat next to the black women after finding my bag just squeezes into the overhead compartment, thank goodness.

The drive through New Jersey is better in fog, which we have here today. A rusting metal drawbridge looks vintage rather than greenery-destroying, and the cranes at the port vaguely like an approaching army rather than encroaching blight. There is, of course, beauty in apocalypse, and Newark Airport’s rotting trailers and glowing red lights, blinking, look rather like a rebel outpost just as its central tower reminds one of the Tower of Sauron. These are good things.

The young girl sitting behind me is on her way to a friend’s going away party, a friend heading to Beijing and Paris for 18 months. The half of her face I can make out between two headrests is attractive. She is awakened by a phone and begins speaking to a friend she hasn’t talked to in forever.

“I helped Dave move all weekend.”

“I’m not sure I’m ready to get married. I want to get married at some point, I just don’t know when.”

“And yeah I would marry him.”

“I just feel like I’m running in place at my job. I want to get to the next level.”

“I’m just not sure where I am at this stage in my life.”

“I can’t believe we’re 27.”

“Amy wanted to be pregnant at 28. She just got a new job. I haven’t talked to her in a while.”

“She’s a TV reporter.”

“OK yeah, I’m turning 27 in two months.”

“It’ll be OK. I think.”

I got to my wedding in time, early, in fact. I filmed the happy couple. I enjoyed the open bar, and the dance floor. I had an uneventful bus ride back the next day, returning to work in plenty of time.

On Board #59

The origin of the project can be found here. Send your missives here, like others have done.

March 11, 2010, 9:41 p.m.
2 Train – 72nd St. to Bergen St.

  • What is political party of the current president?
  • What is the name of one branch or part of the government?
  • What is the supreme law of the land?
  • How many amendments does the Constitution have?
  • What are two Cabinet-level positions?

These are the questions, written in bold, that a young Dominican man has pulled out of a blue folder, out of a blue satchel, resting on his blue jeans, connecting his tush to the blue subway seat. This is the third page of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services citizenship test study guide. The answers are highlighted with italics and bullet points.

He’s wearing an Under Armour mesh baseball cap and all black Converse high tops. Who needs socks? He’s easily distracted, glancing around the car. He scoots over as a neighbor exits the train, and a pretty girl takes his old seat. He’s even more distracted now. Good luck.